Fender 1958 "tweed" Harvard Guitar Amplifier
Last Update 07-08-2012
promised myself that I
wouldn't buy any more gear
until I got my house built... and then this gem appears at a price I
A "tweed" Fender amp had on my want list ever since I tried out a
narrow panel tweed Champ. Now I understood the hype behind these
things. The Champ, as great as it sounded, was pretty much a one
trick pony and for the $$$ they were asking I passed on it. I
decided a bigger amp would suit my needs better, something with two 6V6
power tubes. That selection was deliberate because my collection
consisted of amps with 6L6s and EL34s. The 6V6 has a unique sound
from the other two and I like variety in my arsenal. But it is
very rare to find tweed amps above 10 watts selling for less than $3000
The house was a higher priority so I wasn't actively looking for one.
I forget what I was searching for on the net but this tweed amp crossed
my path. Just when I decide to stay out of music stores, I find another piece of gear to buy.
Time to get off the net so I can save $$$ for a house. Tweed amps
are hard enough to come by, but a Harvard
amp is the rarest of the bunch. They were made for only six
years, and this model had the lowest production count. And here
was a war-hardened relic with stories to tell - and a price far below
the market value. It was exactly what I was looking for - a
classic tweed low-wattage model with a big variety of tones. It
went straight to my amp tech for a thorough inspection and other than a
recap, new handle, and new power tubes it was good as is. My tech
has seen MANY amplifiers pass his shop, but this is the first Harvard
he has seen.
I knew there was a reason this amp was cheap. This 1958 5F10
Harvard puts out 10 watts into a 10" speaker but the speaker is not
original. Neither is the output transformer original. The
tweed covering it hardly mint. But hey - it sounds great! Controls
offered are sophisicated volume and tone - that's it. There are
three instrument inputs, each having a different input impedance.
Back then it was common to have one amp shared between a guitar player
or harp player or singer, and this was perfect for all three in a
bedroom band. For a guitar player these three inputs are like
three different amps.
I was going to re-tweed the amp, but my internet friends strongly urged
me against it. It will drop the value enough that I will never
get back the money I put into it. And they LOVED the look of that
road-worn amp. I have to admit they were right, and I grew to
like it better as is.
I did ask my tech to replace the original two prong power cord with a
grounded three prong cord. The original grounding system was
unsafe and presented a hazard if the plug was inserted backwards (back
in the 1950s polarized grounded AC plugs did not exist). And
there was a capacitor between neutral and chassis that established a
pseudo ground - besides being unsafe, that cap was before the power
switch and always soaking power even
with the switch off! It was little surprise that many
tweed amps arrived at the repair shop with these caps blown - and it
was a messy cleanup job when they blew.
Don't let the 10 watt rating fool you - this beast is loud. Fender designed these
amps for clean undistorted headroom for the country players of the
day. They never intended the volume to be cranked to 12 (that's
one higher than you, Spinal Tap!) but decades later players discovered
a lovely crunch hidden in these innocent little boxes. Indeed,
the 15 watt 5E3 tweed Deluxe is highly sought after for the same reason.
Loud isn't the only thing that tweeds do well. This Harvard
responds very well to playing dynamics. Stroke the strings
lightly and you get that clean Fender sound, while hard playing will
push it into that lovely overdrive. The tonal colors in between
are unbelievable. Complimenting the sound is the 5Y3 rectifier
tube which imparts a compression effect on hard sharp transients
because the rectifier tube cannot instantaneously respond to current
A trait unique to tweed amps with dual 6V6s is the cathodyne (aka
"split load") phase inverter. This circuit contributes some
distortion of its own and I have yet to hear of a modeller that models
the phase inverter distortion. A cathodyne PI differs from the
more common long tailed pair PI in that the latter is much cleaner
thereby delivers maximum power to the power output stage, and amplifier
technology had been steadily advancing power output from 1940 to
1960. Back in the 1950s the lesser cathodyne PI was used in lower
wattage amps because it required fewer parts which kept the cost of the
amp reasonable. The Harvard was considered a practice amp and Leo Fender wanted
to keep it in a certain price range, whereas the big performer tweed
Bassman and Twin used 6L6s with the LTP PI. The onset of
distortion from the cathodyne PI is gradual (also responding to touch),
and it distorts before the 6V6s do. So the low wattage tweeds
have a grind that is unique to them.
The Harvard stands alone in this one feature - a 6AT6 preamp
tube. No other Fender amp used this tube. While the 12AX7
is a dual triode tube, the 6AT6 is a cute little single triode
tube. Leo had designed the Vibrolux, but felt that another model
between that and the Princeton was needed. So he simply removed
the tremolo circuit of the 5F11
Vibrolux create the 5F10 Harvard.
But there was an unused triode stage with the removal of the tremolo so
the Harvard was designed with the single triode 6AT6 to eliminate
redundancy. The Harvard is closely related to the Deluxe with
three significant differences 1) plate voltages 2) 12" speaker (Deluxe)
and 3) the Harvard lacks the tone recovery stage of the Deluxe.
Had Leo used the redundant triode as the tone recovery stage, the 10w
Harvard would had been too close to the 15w Deluxe.
There was a 6G10 Harvard
made during its last years 1960/61 which is
closest to the Princeton with its single 6V6 power tube.
Speculation is that Fender was about to discontinue the Harvard as it
was never a big seller. Leo never wasted anything, so he repackaged the
Harvard in a Princeton cabinet to use up the supply of Harvard badges
without building new cabinets. Leo was really frugal but
Omissions aside, the Harvard has this crisp snarl that I had not heard from any
amp. The clean sound has this crisp high transient edge that is
pleasant on the ears and really gives different guitars their
voice. Gradually increasing the volume drove the amp into
overdrive, all the way to the bark of a Marshall (which was infact
derived from a tweed Bassman) - and
it still had that high end edge. By varying touch or
lowering the volume, you can control the overdrive remotely. And
the relative loudness between these extremes is very even. This
is a cool feature.
Variations of the tone control was interesting - this is not your
simple cut in high frequencies, there is something more sophisicated
going on here. Playing my tele, strat, and les paul yielded
wonderful results (I will include sound samples later). My
brother's vintage Hamer Standard sounded GREAT through the Harvard -
and I sold that guitar to him years ago because I couldn't get the
sound I wanted out of it! Yet further proof that the amp is as
vital as the guitar.
With my arsenal of assorted speaker cabinets and speakers, I plan on
doing some experimenting. My tech tells me of a customer who got
a lovely sound with a tweed driving Celestion G12 alnicos, and I have
some in my collection that are definitely going to see flight time with
the Harvard. My tech also suggested varying the phase inverter
tube - the original is GE 5751 and a 12AX7 will crunch it up some more.
I located some NOS tubes at a hamfest and took home some 6AT6s, 6AV6s,
and 6AU6s. The 6AV6 has higher gain than the AT, while the 6AU6
lower gain. I haven't yet experimented with the 6AU6. The
with the 6AV6 did yield more overdrive but at the expense of that edgy
snarl. Both me and my brother preferred the original 6AT6.
But the 6AV6 may have a useful purpose in the future.
Unbeknownst to me, this Harvard was predestined by a prior acquisition
- a Fender Reverb reissue tweed.
These two in addition to my Telecaster
make an excellent combination, audible and visual. This was not
planned, but nonetheless interesting that they "fell into place".
Harvard and Reverb are an interesting study of contrast of new vs
fossel - a fifty year difference in age. I mean, LOOK at the wear
on that tweed... Fender "relics" can't touch this thing!
Harvards are very hard to come by because owners simply do not give
them up. Collectors have told of owning many tweed amps, then
trimming out the collection to a select few which always included the
Harvard. And there is another group of collectors who have never
had the pleasure of owning or playing through a Harvard. The most
famous proponent of the Harvard was Steve Cropper who used it to great
effect on Booker T songs and many soul songs of the 1960s. The
late Jerry Garcia was known to keep a Harvard in his dressing room as a
warmup amp, but it is unknown if it appeared on a Grateful Dead
track. Fender revived the Harvard in the 1990s but in name only -
it bears zero resemblance to the sound, features, or looks of the tweed